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Full text of "A story about a real man"

328                                                                                                     B. POLEVOI
had  become a  real,  yes,  a real man, only to crash in
this absurd way as soon as he had achieved it?
Bail out? Too late! The wood was rushing past beneath
him and in his hurricane flight the tree tops merged in
continuous green strips. He had seen something like this
before. When? Why, of course! During that spring, at the
time of his frightful crash. Then the green strips had raced
beneath him in the same way. He made the last effort and
pulled the stick. ...
Petrov heard a ringing in his ears from loss of blood.
Everything—the airfield, the familiar faces and the golden
afternoon clouds—suddenly began to sway, turn upside
down slowly and fade away. He moved his injured leg
and the acute pain it caused brought him round.
"Hasn't he come?" he asked.
"Not yet. Don't talk," came the answer.
Could it be that Meresyev, who that day had unaccount-
ably appeared like a winged god in front of that German
at the very moment when Petrov had thought that his end
had come, was now nothing but a shapeless heap of burnt
flesh lying somewhere on that shell-scalped and mutilated
ground? And would Sergeant-Major Petrov never again
see the black, slightly wild and kindly bantering eyes of
his leader? Never?
The Wing Commander pulled his sleeve down. He no
longer needed his watch. Stroking his smooth hair with
both his hands he said in a dull voice:
"That's all!"
"Is there no hope?" somebody asked.
"No. Fuel's run out. Perhaps he has landed somewhere
or bailed out-----Take this stretcher away!"
The colonel turned away and began to whistle some
melody, all out of tune. Petrov again felt a lump rising
in his throat, so hot and large that he almost choked. A
strange coughing sound was heard. The people still
standing silently in the middle of the airfield looked
round and at once turned their heads away. The wounded
airman in the stretcher was sobbing.
"Take him away! What the hell!..." shouted the colonel
in a choking voice, and he strode off, turning his face